My birthday wishes for Philippine sports

To the more than 400 people who greeted me on Facebook and the over 100 who did the same on Twitter, I'd just like to say I'm blessed to have you all as friends, supporters and followers. You've all been an integral part of my 42 years on this planet and may I continue to call you friends, supporters and followers for at least another 42 years.


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I've been in the sports broadcasting industry since 1994 and I've been writing about sports since 2001 (starting with the now defunct "FWD" Magazine) and I must say that 2012 has been the busiest year for both careers. That being said, here's my wish list of five things I hope to see in sports starting in 2013 and maybe the results kick in within our immediate lifetime. After all, it is said the world will end on the 21st right? Well, just in case it doesn't happen, here we go:

1. The Azkals (or their descendants) qualify for the FIFA World Cup (maybe by 2022). Fellow Yahoo! Blogger Bob Guerrero feels that this goal may be more than just a couple of years away. So it looks like 2022 might be a safe estimate on when the Philippines can finally crash the world party and showcase our talents in the biggest stage of them all. This means that the Millennium Babies will be the stars of this squad. We have a lot going for football in the archipelago, but as long as we keep acknowledging that our stronger Asian neighbors will always be more superior, then the seeds planted by Dan Palami and company will always have a stunted growth. We've shown that we have traces of what it takes to be a winner and despite our elimination at the hands of Singapore recently, there is—to borrow an NBA Fantasy term—tremendous upside in our football program. We are a few baby steps and half a generation away from greatness. Let's keep the ball rolling.

The Azkals have 10 years to make Noel's birthday wish come true. (NPPA Images)

2. A Filipino plays in the NBA (and I'm talking about born and raised stuff). Notice how I'm phrasing my wishes; like headlines. This is because I want you all to visualize with me the positive energy headlines like these may generate and maybe we can collectively will it into reality. Another fellow Yahoo! Blogger—and family friend—Atty. Charlie Cuna once mentioned about Johnny Abarrientos being scouted back in the late 1990's by representatives of the Toronto Raptors, but was never given a try-out. Actually, the same could also be said of "The Skywalker" Samboy Lim as he was also being eyed by a few scouts back in the 1980's.

Asi Taulava had a stint in the Dallas Mavericks training camp in the early part of the millennium and quite recently Japeth Aguilar came close to landing a slot in the NBA's D-League. I truly believe that despite our genetic shortcomings as a race, the first Filipino NBA talent HAS ALREADY BEEN BORN. Heck, he might already be playing in his baranggay league and wowing a handful of neighbors in some makeshift court in rural Itogon, Benguet. He might even have no knowledge of the fundamentals of the game but is already unusually tall (and quick) for a third grader. He's here, guys. It's now up to our friends at the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) to find him and give him the proper tools. If they found Greg Slaughter, they can find this phenom. He'll definitely put Philippine basketball on the map.

3. Philippine baseball evolves and reclaims its status as an Asian powerhouse. In a recent blog, I mentioned how we used to be the hotbed of America's pastime in the Far East.  I mean, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig would not have come halfway around the world if we were subpar as a baseball nation, right? One of the biggest deterrents of the sport over last couple of decades is that there has been a lot of squabbling within its ranks and this became even more evident when Baseball Philippines began being noticed. It is my aspiration to have the warring factions resolve years of rows and come together to become the dominant nation we once were.

My good buddy—and international boxing commentator—Mike Ochosa has been involved in the "Habagat" program where tots from as young as six years of age have now reached international competition standards. His stories on how these young boys who have no idea about politics and power-struggles just take to the field and leave their hearts out there for our flag wherever they compete (with the help our a handful of sponsors and their ever-supportive families) are inspiring and heart-warming. The Habagat program is probably the best foundational entity across any sport in the country at present (maybe runners-up would be rugby, water polo and Dance Sport). If what the Habagat program is doing spills over to other baseball organizations, then we can finally qualify for the World Baseball Classic and have a new generation of "Aguilas" that will make their forefathers extremely proud.

Philippine baseball needs a lift. (Getty Images)

4. The government creates a Department of Sports. Growing up, I couldn't understand why the government had a department that encompassed seemingly an unusually wide spectrum of disjointed entities: The Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS). Of course now, the education duties are now handled autonomously by the Department of Education (DepEd) and the college level is under the Commission for Higher Education (CHEd). Culture and art is now governed by the National Commission of Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and sports has the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC). I can speak on the arts on a different platform (being a musician myself) but I'm wondering why Education gets a department and culture, arts and sports gets only a commission. The big difference here is that in a government department, the President has the authority to appoint a designated secretary to run it. Commissions vote amongst themselves and elect a leader while the government has no direct say in its policies and decision-making processes.

It may not happen during this administration, but maybe the next president can create a new department wherein the Department of Sports now answers directly to the Executive office and also funding for the programs under its auspices is centralized through the government. This way, if there is any suspicion of corruption, it will reflect on the government and the Executive branch can take the necessary steps into to cleaning it up. It's difficult when you have a bunch of private citizens run a government "sanctioned" commission. Malversation goes unchecked, policies can easily be revised and mandates cannot easily be questioned. I believe President Marcos under Michael Keon and the Gintong Alay program was a step in the right direction: a government controlled sports governing body (then masquerading as a mere program). Bring that concept back, and there's your brand, spanking new Department of Sports.

…and on a personal note…

Poker in the SEA Games? Well, if bridge is already in...(Getty Images)

5. Poker becomes a medal sport in the 2019 SEA Games. The sport (and it is a sport) I have been involved with as either a commentator, writer, producer or player over the past four years has slowly evolved and it is my wish that the Philippines is the first to bring this into an international multi-sport arena. 2019 is the next time the Philippines hosts the biennial meet and I am enthusiastic that it came be done. The Filipinos have become almost world class in poker. We've been winning in major tournaments in Macau and in the Asian scene (Neil Arce won the 2009 APT Main Event and recently Jav Medina won the 2012 edition). The first step is to create a National Sports Association (NSA) for poker as it has all the requirements to qualify as a sport: officials (the dealers, floor managers and the tournament director is the chief of officials), equipment (the regulation-sized poker table, chips, cards and additional paraphernalia such as the Dealer Button, All-In triangle, etc.), rules (all poker tournaments follow the Tournament Directors of America rule book), mechanics (the tournament structure, rules governing each variant of tournament poker, etc.) and the players.

According to my now deceased colleague Clarito Samson—who offered to help me develop the NSA for poker before his untimely demise about a month ago—one of the requirements of applying for an NSA is that the Philippines had to have hosted a major international tournament. Since the Asian Poker Tour (APT) opened its new series in 2008, the Philippines has hosted a major event at least twice in every year since. If Bridge can earn a spot in the Indonesian edition of the games, poker can also make it here in the Philippines, 2019. If you actually think about it, some of the best players in the world actually come from Southeast Asia: John Juanda (Indonesia), Scotty Nguyen (Vietnam), Toto Leonidas and Noli Francisco (Philippines).

At the end of the day, the decision is up to the people involved. This is my wish list. Who can help me make it happen? I think you can.

Again, thanks for all the birthday greetings! Let's do this again next year, shall we? God?

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.